| ||Jeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003. |
Real Madrid's basketball team has been under scrutiny for the past few weeks because of Ettore Messina's decision to resign as coach.
The club's youngsters are meeting the challenges of the post-Messina era head-on.
Instead of caving in under the pressure of games in the ACB and the Euroleague, Sergio Llull, Nikola Mirotic and Ante Tomic have shown a terrific fighting spirit.
The club's big signing from last summer, Carlos Suarez, has as well.
Each was vital in the team's 71-65 victory over Power Electronics Valencia on Tuesday night in Game 1 of their Turkish Airlines quarter-final showdown.
|Felipe Reyes is averaging nine points and five rebounds for Real Madrid, giving a young team some veteran leadership|
Real Madrid's Spain national team forward and club captain, Felipe Reyes, has applauded each.
"They are young players that have great quality and are gaining great experience this year," he said to Basketball World News.
"We are playing important games that are going down to the wire and players like Mirotic are crucial in those minutes.
"This year, they are helping us a lot and we have to continue like this, working very hard in the same direction.
"The veterans need to help the youngsters when they go through difficult times."
The Spain Question
Llull has played for Spain's senior national team the past two summers while Suarez is one that could feature for the national team this summer.
A player that can't stay out of the headlines in Madrid is Mirotic, an all-tournament team selection at last year's U20 European Championship while representing Spain.
The forward excelled in the Top 16 when given a chance to be a big contributor by Messina and on Tuesday night against Power Electronics Valencia in Game 1 of their Euroleague Quarter-Final tie, he scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
His biggest baskets came when nailing a jump shot to give Madrid a 66-65 lead and the next trip down the floor, Mirotic buried a three-pointer from the left corner.
The performances are giving him a chance to make Spain's EuroBasket squad at the tender age of 20.
|Nikola Mirotic was a stand-out for Spain at the youth level|
"You can see in games that Mirotic has a lot of talent," Reyes said, "that his hand doesn't tremble in the final minutes and that is difficult to see in a youngster.
"He is gaining a lot of confidence and that will help him to mature and to improve.
"Mirotic is playing at a very high level but it will be the Spain coach (Sergio Scariolo) to decide whether to call him this summer.
"But he is playing a great season, for sure."
For his part, Mirotic says all the credit for his smooth transition to the big time should go to Madrid and his teammates.
"I am very happy," he said to Basketball World News.
"Thanks to my team-mates and the coaches that have supported me in my career, I feel part of the team, I feel important and as I have always said, I am here to help the team.
"If I have to be on the bench, then I'll be cheering the team and if I'm on the court to defend and play well on offense."
Reyes played in his first EuroBasket with Spain in 2001 and has been in the squad every summer since.
Still only 31, Reyes is in his prime but he said: "I want to end the season in the best possible way and gain more confidence in my play.
"I would love to play in the EuroBasket in Lithuania but I have to wait and see how my body is."